I issued a new book on Saturday for the Billboard Best Sellers In Stores Chart. (If your interested then a link to check out the page is here) and I thought I’d go through the process of putting it together. My last post talked about gathering the data I nave, so this one will talk a little more about checking and compiling that data.
It all starts with gathering the weekly charts themselves, either in picture form or as typed files. For many of the Best Sellers charts I obtained these originally as typed weekly charts so long ago that I’ve forgotten from where. They came as text files, and so I had to transfer them into my database. I’ll talk more about the database later, but below is an example of the files and how they appeared.
US Top 30 Best Sellers In Stores Week Ending 5th January, 1955
Issue Date 15th January, 1955
TW LW TITLE-Artist (Label)-Weeks on Chart (Peak Position)
1 1 MR. SANDMAN
The Chordettes (Cadence)-12 (8 weeks at #1) (1)
2 2 LET ME GO, LOVER
Joan Weber (Columbia)-7 (2)
3 3 THE NAUGHTY LADY OF SHADY LANE
The Ames Brothers (Columbia)-8 (3)
4 7 HEARTS OF STONE
The Fontane Sisters (Dot)-6 (4)
5 6 TEACH ME TONIGHT
The DeCastro Sisters (Abbott)-15 (3)
Now the first thing to do after entering was to verify the data was accurate. When copying direct from the original chart that was easy, as the data presented was normally completely correct, in terms of positions, but in the case of the text files I wanted to be sure.
I was very fortunate to discover, around about 2010, Google Books. Google have scanned almost all issues from 1942 to 2000 and made them available free of charge online (meaning you can do what I did if you want to). The archive can be found here, as well as in other places around the internet. One other source in more recent years has been the truly excellent and amazing American Radio History which currently has almost all issues from 1927 to 2015. For issues of all of these with missing pages or charts the British Library contains an almost complete run, and so I went there.
Armed now with pages of scans (The archive now runs to almost 200Gb and not just of Billboard charts) the process of checking each week can begin, and amending errors. This in itself is not without flaws, as sometimes the chart I had was right, corrected by a note in a future issue of Billboard, and I accidentally correct to the original error. But I progress through the changes and the checking.
This gives me Artist, Title, Label, Catalogue Number and sometimes B-Side (in the early days). Of course, that just gives me how Billboard printed the title and that was not always correct, which then meant each record has to be verified. 2,294 records made the Best Sellers In Stores chart. Each one needs to be found, duration noted, composer noted, correct titles noted, etc. Wikipedia, Discogs, iTunes (less so for this particularly chart) and 45cat have all been immensely useful.
Others have helped me immensely here, in verifying and checking data. I produce the ChartBookWeekly and a gentleman who has bought this, Jörg, has been very helpful in error correcting.
All this does mean that errors can still exist. I’d be foolish in the extreme to assume I had everything correct, and sometimes errors creep in, particularly in sorting of artists. One of the things I don’t do is distinguish whether a recording artist is a group or a solo artist and thats something I will be looking to add to the database over time (30,000 records currently in the database covering 1940-1971 and 500,000 positions with another 5 million positions to add from the old database into the new one.). That can lead to a sorting error and the slip of a finger can make Deep Purple appear under P rather than D. Happily, these are errors which are very easy to fix (annoyingly they cause me acute personal embarrassment when pointed out – but please don’t let that stop you from pointing them out!)
Once the data has been verified and weekly charts exist in the database, that’s when the export comes in – and thats for another post. Suffice to say, when I began re-building the database in December last year (It’s not entirely finished now) I went for something that could export quickly and easily – so creating the Best Sellers In Stores book physically took five minutes – after about 15 years (off and on) work to get to that stage. So, if you do buy a copy, I hope you enjoy it.